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UK F-35B Lightning Aircraft
F-35B Lightning aircraft to RAF Marham

RAF F-35B Lightning

RAF F-35B Lightning

F-35B Lightning aircraft & 617 Sqn reformed
In April 2018, 617 Squadron was reformed to fly the new Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning aircraft. Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson announced the reformed squadron at an event in Washington DC to mark the centenary of the RAF.

First batch of RAF F-35B Lightnings land at RAF Marham - June 2018
It was expected that four UK F-35B Lightning aircraft would transit from MCAS Beaufort to RAF Marham on Tuesday 5th June 2018, although due to the weather conditions it was decided that they would cross the Atlantic on Wednesday 6th June 2018. The four aircraft (ZM145, ZM146, ZM147 and ZM148) were supported across the Atlantic by RAF Voyager tankers as well as an A400M Atlas transporter which was carrying spares, support equipment and engineers in case any F-35s had a problem and were diverted to land.

Second batch of RAF F-35B Lightnings land at RAF Marham - August 2018
Another five F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM140, ZM141, ZM142, ZM143 & ZM144) crossed the Atlantic and landed at RAF Marham on Friday 3rd August 2018 at about 9.30pm. The F-35s were met by a Tornado GR4 over Land's End, Cornwall which escorted them to RAF Marham in Norfolk. This brings the total number of F-35 Lightnings, at RAF Marham, to nine aircraft.

Third batch of F-35B Lightnings land at RAF Marham - July 2019
Six more UK F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM137, ZM139, ZM149, ZM150, ZM151, ZM152) crossed the Atlantic and landed at RAF Marham on the evening of Tuesday 16th July 2019. These six aircraft belong to 207 (OCU) Squadron and will be based at RAF Marham where they will train Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots. The role of an operational conversion unit (OCU) is to teach pilots how to fly the aircraft and which tactics best exploit the performance of their aircraft and its weapons.

Fourth batch of F-35B Lightnings land at RAF Marham - November 2020
Three more UK F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM153, ZM154, ZM155) crossed the Atlantic and landed at RAF Marham on the evening of Monday 30th November 2020.

Fifth batch of F-35B Lightnings land at RAF Marham - October 2021
Three more UK F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM156, ZM157, ZM158) landed at RAF Marham on the evening of Thursday 28th October 2021.

Sixth batch of F-35B Lightnings arrived at RAF Marham - 3 March 2022
Three more UK F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM159, ZM160, ZM161) arrived at RAF Marham on Thursday 3rd March 2022 at about 3pm.

Seventh batch of F-35B Lightnings arrived at RAF Marham - 18 November 2022
Three more UK F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM162, ZM163, ZM164) arrived at RAF Marham on Friday 18th November 2022.

Eight batch of F-35B Lightnings arrived at RAF Marham - 22 June 2023
Two UK F-35B Lightning aircraft (ZM166, ZM167) arrived at RAF Marham on Thursday 22nd June 2023.

RAF Marham
RAF Marham retired it last two Squadrons of Tornado GR4s (IX Sqn & 31 Sqn) in March 2019 and has completed significant infrastructure to support the new F-35B Lightning aircraft. This includes a national operating centre which is the headquarters for the Lightning Force, a maintenance and finishing facility with an eight-bay hangar for engineering maintenance purposes, and an integrated training centre, which will house four full mission simulators and ground crew training facilities. The runways and taxiways have also been refurbished along with three new vertical landing pads using special high-temperature resistant concrete.

Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers
As well as the F-35B Lightnings operating from RAF Marham, they will also operate from the two new Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers. HMS Queen Elizabeth set sail to the United States for F-35 Lightnings trials in Autumn 2018. More information about the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers can be found here.

Initial operational capability for the F-35B was declared in January 2019 for land-based operations and the Lightning is also to be progressively cleared for use from the Royal Navy's two aircraft carriers by late 2020.

F-35 Lightning aircraft
The fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft. They have been designed to perform ground attack and air superiority missions. This sophisticated aircraft has advanced avionics, sensors, displays and communication systems that collect and share data with the pilot and other friendly forces which provides unmatched situational awareness.

There are three variants including:

Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning:
A conventional take off and landing variant.

Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning:
A short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant.

Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning:
A carrier-based CATOBAR variant.

The F-35A is intended for the United States Air Force (USAF) and other air forces around the world. The F-35B will be operated by the United Stated Marines Corps (USMC) and the Royal Air Force / Royal Navy. The UK's new Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers will operate the F-35B variant. The United States Navy (USN) as well as the United Stated Marines Corps will operate the F-35C on the USN aircraft carriers.

617 Squadron history
617 Squadron has operated the following aircraft throughout its history:- Avro Lancaster, Avro Lincoln, English Electric Canberra, Avro Vulcan and Panavia Tornado GR1/GR4. However, the squadron is most famous for its use of Lancaster bombers during Operation Chastise, against German dams, in the Second World War. This is why 617 Squadron is nicknamed 'The Dambusters', and has the motto 'Apres moi le deluge' which is French for 'After me, the flood'.

The squadron was formed in secret at RAF Scampton in March 1943, for the specific task of attacking three dams (Mohne, Eder and Sorpe) that provided water and power to the Ruhr industrial region of Germany.

Using 'bouncing bombs', designed by Barnes Wallis, they undertook low-level training over the dams of the Upper Derwent Valley, in Derbyshire, before attacking the actual dams, on the 16th-17th May 1943. Both the Mohne and Eder dams were breached but the Sorpe remained intact. Although the impact on industrial production was limited, the raid gave a significant morale boost to the people of Britain.

Nineteen Lancasters took part in the raid with 133 aircrew, but eight planes were lost with the loss of fifty three crew and three men survived to become prisoners of war. On the ground, almost 1,300 people were killed in the resulting flooding. The Wing Commander, Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the raid.

UK F-35B Lightning Squadrons
The F-35B Lightnings are pooled between 617 squadron and 207(OCU) Squadron at RAF Marham. 17 Reserve Squadron is based at Edwards AFB in the USA with 3 aircraft (ZM135, ZM136 & ZM138) which are used for operational test and evaluation. 809 Naval Air Squadron will follow in 2023.

Current UK F-35B Lightning Aircraft (as of June 2023)
BK-01 - ZM135 - 17 Sqn - Test & Evaluation (Edwards AFB)
BK-02 - ZM136 - 17 Sqn - Test & Evaluation (Edwards AFB)
BK-03 - ZM137 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 16.7.19
BK-04 - ZM138 - 17 Sqn - Test & Evaluation (Edwards AFB)
BK-05 - ZM139 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 16.7.19
BK-06 - ZM140 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.08.18
BK-07 - ZM141 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.08.18
BK-08 - ZM142 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.08.18
BK-09 - ZM143 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.08.18
BK-10 - ZM144 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.08.18
BK-11 - ZM145 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 06.06.18
BK-12 - ZM146 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 06.06.18
BK-13 - ZM147 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 06.06.18
BK-14 - ZM148 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 06.06.18
BK-15 - ZM149 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 16.07.19
BK-16 - ZM150 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 16.07.19
BK-17 - ZM151 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 16.07.19
BK-18 - ZM152 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 16.7.19 Lost.
BK-19 - ZM153 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 30.11.20
BK-20 - ZM154 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 30.11.20
BK-21 - ZM155 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 30.11.20
BK-22 - ZM156 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 28.10.21
BK-23 - ZM157 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 28.10.21
BK-24 - ZM158 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 28.10.21
BK-25 - ZM159 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.03.22
BK-26 - ZM160 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.03.22
BK-27 - ZM161 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 03.03.22
BK-28 - ZM162 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 18.11.22
BK-29 - ZM163 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 18.11.22
BK-30 - ZM164 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 18.11.22
BK-31 - ZM165 - 17 Sqn - Test & Evaluation (Edwards AFB)
BK-32 - ZM166 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 22.06.23
BK-33 - ZM167 - (RAF Marham) - Arrived 22.06.23
One aircraft was lost when deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth (ZM152 on 17.11.21).

Initial operational capability
Initial operational capability (IOC) for the UK F-35B Lightning was declared on 10th January 2019 for land-based operations and has been cleared to operate from the aircraft carriers in late 2020. By 2023, the UK will have forty eight F-35B aircraft, with at least twenty four aircraft available for front-line service on the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier.

In the Strategic Defence and Security Review which was released in March 2021, it stated that the RAF F-35B Lightning force size will be increased beyond the 48 aircraft that have already been ordered. More UK weapons will be integrated into the aircraft and investment will ensure that its software and capability are updated.

Four F-35B Lightning aircraft arrive at RAF Marham
On Wednesday 6th June 2018 at about 8pm, four RAF F-35B Lightnings landed at RAF Marham.

RAF F-35B at Marham

RAF F-35B at Marham

RAF F-35B at Marham

RAF F-35B at Marham

RAF F-35B at Marham

RAF F-35B at Marham

The last six photos were taken at RAF Marham on 6th June 2018 by Matt Varley.

First UK F-35B Deployment & Operational Mission (May 2019)
The first UK deployment of the F-35B Lightning (617 Squadron) was on the 22nd May 2019 when six aircraft arrived at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, for six weeks as part of 'Exercise Lightning Dawn'. The first operational mission was on 16th June 2019 when two 617 Sqn F-35s conducted a patrol over Syria as part of Operation Shader. On 25th June 2019, 617 Squadron's F-35Bs participated in 'Exercise Tri Lightning' alongside United States Air Force F-35As of the 4th Fighter Squadron and Israeli Air Force F-35Is of 140 Squadron over the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Four of the aircraft returned home to RAF Marham on 2nd July 2019 while the remaining two arrived at Amendola Air Base to carry out bilateral training with the Italian Air Force, including the local F-35As of 32º Stormo.

Carrier Strike Group joins the fight against Daesh (22 June 2021)
617 Sqn F-35B Lightnings along with USMC F-35B aircraft joined the fight against Daesh, in support of Operation Shader, operating from the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier, in June 2021. More information about the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group, which is sailing to the Pacific region in 2021, can be found here.

Queen Elizabeth Strike Group Pacific Deployment 2021 (CSG21)
Eight UK F-35B Lightnings (617Sqn) joined ten USMC F-35B Lightning (VMFA-211 Sqn 'Wake Island Avengers') on HMS Queen Elizabeth which set sail to the Pacific with its Strike Group. Unfortunately a 617Sqn F-35B Lightning was lost in November 2021 when it dropped into the Mediterranean Sea after take-off, however the pilot ejected to safety. More info on the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group Pacific Deployment 2021 can be found here.


Related Links:

RAF Marham page.

RAF Scampton page.

BBMF Lancaster over the Derwent Dam.

Dambusters Wiki Page.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier.

RIAT 2016 Review & Photographs.

Fighter Control Forum.

Scramble website.

ITV News Anglia Live Feed (6/6/18)

RAF F-35B Lightning aircraft land at RAF Marham.

Take off with Dan Snow from inside the cockpit of an RAF Tornado as he meets the five latest F-35B Lightnings to arrive in the UK from America on 3rd August 2018.